As of today, I’m officially halfway through Enterprise: I’ve reached the beginning of season three. And here’s something crazy: It’s become good. Not “kinda good considering it’s Enterprise.” I mean, legit good. Apparently the episode “Judgment” wasn’t just a fluke! I have no idea how long this will keep up, but I like what I’ve seen.
I’ve actually underestimated the show. The episode “The Cogenitor” pissed me off so much I stopped watching it 10 minutes in. It revolved around an encounter with a tri-gendered race whose members of the third sex (cogenitors) exist as a tiny minority of the population that serve strictly as facilitators for male/female conception and, despite their sentience and intelligence, are given no personal rights or even names. Offended, Trip decides to impose human morality upon another species’ established practices — the worst kind of first season arrogance and bad writing. That’s where I stopped watching; it’s the first time I’ve been so annoyed at the show that I’ve skipped an episode.
But then I read an episode recap and discovered that it didn’t turn out to be the infuriatingly solipsistic “Humans show aliens the error of their ways” plot line I expected. So I went back and finished it up and was stunned. Trip teaches a cogenitor to read and to think independently, as expected, but it surprisingly doesn’t make alien society magically better. Rather, it causes all kinds of trouble and eventually leads to the newly self-aware being killing itself in despair. The episode ends with aliens angry at humanity at large and Trip receiving a sharp reprimand from a furious Captain Archer. Powerful stuff, made all the more affecting by how unexpected it was.
Another surprise: The series went back to the Borg well, and it wasn’t terrible. It fit the continuity — a handful of Borg survivors from the collective’s crash on Earth in First Contact revive, assimilate some scientists and a shuttle, and attempt to return home. The episode has some issues: Did everyone on Earth honestly fail to notice the 600-meter starship from the future scattered across several miles of the Arctic for an entire century? And isn’t it lucky that the Borg only adapt their personal shield frequencies to block attacks while trying to board Enterprise, but don’t bother to adjust to Archer’s phaser fire while he knocks down drone after drone at the vulnerable heart of their own ship? Moments of sloppy writing aside, the Borg work better displaced in time than I’d expected; because they’re barely alive and are desperate to escape Earth, they don’t instantly overwhelm this earlier century’s feeble technology. I’ll be annoyed if they ever show up again, but as a one-off? Not so bad.
But the best part of the end of season two is the show’s desperate struggle to maintain some continuity and build-up despite itself. Two episodes deal with the after-effects of “Judgment” — the Klingons place a price on Archer’s head for escaping from Rura Penthe, and he’s captured by a bounty hunter in one episode (only to narrowly escape, natch). Then, in the season finale, the disgraced captain from “Judgment” personally comes after Enterprise, adding a nice touch of tension to an already high-stakes episode. The enemy commander goes down a bit like a sucker (“Hey, they Enterprise is flying directly into that dense stellar cloud! Let’s follow directly behind!”), but this sustained plot thread is a new element that really benefits the show.
Anyway, the second season ends with Enterprise heading into an unknown sector of space in search of a mysterious enemy that aims to destroy the Earth. There’s potential here for a sustained change to the status quo — though of course the storyline could very well be resolved in the first episode of season three. But don’t let me know which it is; I’m heading into unknown territory in the series myself, and I kind of like the element of surprise.
I don’t know if Enterprise can maintain this startling streak of quality, but I’m hoping this is a case of the series rounding a corner and coming into its own (in much the same way The Next Generation finally started being good at the end of its second season) rather than a brief aberration.